The M25: We're on the road to nowhere

Twenty years ago Britain gained a new road - and a new national institution. David Wilkins goes round in circles on the M25

The M25 is more than a motorway, but what is it? Or in the questing words of Iain Sinclair in his book about it: "Was this grim necklace the true perimeter fence? Did this conceptual ha-ha mark the boundary of whatever could be called London? Or was it a tourniquet, sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency to choke the living breath from the Metropolis?" I prefer the answer given by the satirists Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. "Many phenomena - wars, plagues, sudden audits - have been advanced as evidence for the hidden hand of Satan in the affairs of Man, but whenever students of demonology get together, the M25 London orbital motorway is generally agreed to be among the top contenders for exhibit A."

But then, there's lots they don't know about the M25....

PENSIONER BLOCKS MOTORWAY

Quite the opposite, in fact. On 29 October 1986, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, opened the M25 (between J22 and J23 (London Colney and South Mimms). She wore Aquascutum. She said: "I can't stand those who carp and criticise when they ought to be congratulating Britain all over the world." The first break down followed shortly, at 11.16 am.

NEW MEETS OLD

At the Chalfont Viaduct, where the M25 threads through its arches. The Viaduct is a five-span blue-brick railway viaduct built at the turn of the century to cater for commuters travelling from London to High Wycombe on the train.

WIDER STILL AND WIDER

The M25 was designed with a capacity of 100,000 vehicles per day, which it exceeded within a year of opening. Hence the constant proposals for widening. Most is still six lanes, with some four-lane, one 10-lane stretch, and one 12-lane stretch.

BUSIEST BIT...

...is between junctions 13 and 14, with traffic to and from the M3, the M4 and Heathrow. The AA states that 250,000 vehicles per day travel along here, which is twice the design capacity of this section. Has been widened to try to cope.

ROAD TO HELL

The M25 doesn't have the iconic status of America's Route 66, but it has inspired songwriters, if not always positively. Chris Rea's "Road to Hell" for example, is said to refer to the M25: "On your journey cross the wilderness/From the desert to the well/You have strayed upon the motorway to hell."

POLICING...

...is carried out by an integrated policing group comprising the Metropolitan Police plus the Thames Valley, Essex, Kent , Hertfordshire and Surrey constabularies.

LEVELLING UP

Birmingham's "Spaghetti Junction" still sets the standard, but the M25 has some impressive interchanges too. The intersections with the M1 and M23 are especially notable for their awesomely complicated four-level structures.

CIRCULAR ARGUMENT

The M25 (117 miles long) is often considered the world's longest bypass but the A10 "Berliner Ring" Autobahn is longer, at 121 miles. That's a special case, though - East German road planners didn't have the option of building through West Berlin.

CLACKET LANE

The M25 has traditionally been short of service areas. There are now three - South Mimms, Thurrock and Clacket Lane - on the eastern side, but you can still go hungry driving the western half, which is completely bereft of such facilities.

JAMS TOMORROW

Planning for such an intrusive road was difficult and to help things along, junctions were dropped in all over the place to please local residents. That helped the M25 to be built, but allowed lots of local traffic on to what was intended as a long-distance route. It also means the road is now used by many commuters.

MIDAS TOUCH

The busiest western sections of the M25 pioneered Midas (motorway incident detection and automatic signalling) in the UK, a system of variable speed limits and information signs designed to combat congestion.

ORBITAL

Orbital was an English techno duo formed in 1989, consisting of brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll (born 9 January 1964). The Hartnolls took the name of their band from the legendary raves that occurred in the late 1980s around the M25.

NORTH CIRCULAR

The M25 is the main product of the ambitious London "motorway box" plan of the Sixties which foresaw a series of concentric "ringways" . London's main traditional ring route, the A406 North Circular, was also part of the "ringway" scheme.

SOUTH CIRCULAR

Unlike its north London counterpart, the A205 South Circular Road never got the investment it would have received as a ringway and follows existing streets. The old jibe that it is merely "a collection of signposts in south London" remains true.

JAM TODAY

Politicians avoided making their usual promise about jam today when it came to the M25, but we still got the so-called "largest car park in the world". We have heard of five-hour waits, but despite the moans, journey times would be longer without it.

NORTH OCKENDON

Is the only settlement in Greater London to be outside the M25.

THE OLDEST PART...

... of the London orbital route is the first bore of the Dartford Tunnel, opened in 1963. That was joined by a second bore and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, completed in 1991. Collectively these now form the Dartford Crossing. Technically, the M25 is not a complete circle: it ends shortly before the crossing on each side of the river. The crossing itself is the A282.

FASTEST LAP

Ever since it opened, the circular layout of the M25 has, according to urban myth, provided a magnet for racers looking to set the best "lap" time. Presumably, armed with a 250mph Bugatti Veyron you could circumnavigate the 117 miles in 28 minutes, if you encountered no other traffic. Speed cameras might inhibit you, however. Peugeot claimed in 2002 that a 206 diesel could do the circuit on £5.57's worth of diesel. When it comes to speed, you'd better stick with the computer game M25 Racer.

ROAD TO PROSPERITY

There is no official estimate for the cost of the M25 because of the haphazard way it was planned (and it's still being built). Initial tenders for construction were £631.9m and most experts take the final cost to be about £909m up to 1986, or £7.5m/mile.

LITERARY CIRCLES

Or, something to read while you're waiting for the traffic to move. Iain Sinclair's London Orbital is a dark account of a journey on foot around places "where the poor and the mad of the city were dumped". Roy Phippen's Travelling M25 Clockwise is more orthodox.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam